It’s that time again to decide exactly which albums are among the year’s best. Albums that have pulled me through the bleak hours, albums that have clocked up hundreds of minutes as I’ve clocked up the miles and albums that have been the soundtrack to good times.
In what has been a turbulent year of change, we’ve had terrific albums from the likes of Lady, Caro Emerald and Blludd Relations, as well as some mixed debuts from Chvrches, Deap Vally and the Strypes. We’ve even had Beyoncé’s shock release of her fifth studio album at the eleventh hour, which goes to show you just can’t write-off the year in music until it’s all over. But none of those artists have made it into my top 25. And I thought it was tough choosing a top 10 last year – that was without hearing half of the spectacular 2012 albums that I arrived late to this year.
To start with, here’s the first lot of my albums of the year. Come back tomorrow and Friday to see the rest.
If you end up reading about all 25, and find something you enjoy or an album that makes your year that much brighter, then that’s all the better.
Enjoy, and do let me know what you think of my selections in the comments section or via @dk33per.
25. Gabrielle Aplin – English Rain
To start with, a confession. Folk isn’t my thing. At least not the pop chart’s idea of folk (Mumford & Sons, Taylor Swift). So, much to my surprise, Gabrielle Aplin – she of 2012’s John Lewis Christmas ad – has turned out to be one folk artist I’ve found impossible to ignore. Softly sung melodies and acoustic guitar tunes give the 21-year-old’s songs a youthful, sweetness that’s consistently disarming. Perhaps that’s why she has been embraced by the charts in a way, say, Laura Marling has not. Nonetheless, Aplin is a gifted folk singer whose talent is hard to deny.
Top tracks: Panic Cord, Please Don’t Say You Love Me, November
24. Hypnotic Brass Ensemble – Fly: The Customs Prelude
The result of a productive “purple patch” for this Chicago eight-piece brass band, Fly is something of an antipasti to their next album, Customs. Its 11 tracks, themed around escaping the borders of your home nation, are an impressive mix of jazz funk and hip hop. Production is minimal, letting the brass players do their thing. Serving up rich, yet masterfully simple sequences (‘Baggage Claim’) and even smooth and soulful lingo (‘All In’), this is travel music to make you feel like a don.
Top tracks: All In, Rebel Rousin, Exchange Rate
23. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
By this point, you may be sick of ‘Get Lucky’. Still, that doesn’t stop it being one of the finest dance tracks in years. Of course, unlike their summer smash, Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories is a slow burner that requires investment from the listener – as Pete Paphides puts it. While I don’t consider it among my top favourites this year, there are enough delights for it to become one over time. Stand out joints are without doubt those penned in collaboration with Nile Rodgers and Pharrell Williams, while nine-minute synth epic, ‘Giorgia by Moroder’, is the strongest case yet for unedited dance music of the album variety.
Top tracks: Get Lucky, Lose Yourself to Dance, Giorgio by Moroder
22. Arctic Monkeys – AM
As openers go, ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ made a firm declaration that the Arctic Monkeys were gunning for the top with their fifth album. Shuttering, voluminous bass riffs echo out of your speakers vaudeville-style, followed by the familiar, Yorkshire drawl of Alex Turner. And the rest of the album keeps pace with its tales of drunkenness and misfortune at the midnight hour. At worst, this is more of the very good same, and at best, it rekindles the thrill of the Monkeys’s debut.
Top tracks: Do I Wanna Know?, Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?, One for the Road
21. Neon Neon – Praxis Makes Perfect
Trust the mad minds of Gruff Rhys and Boom Bip to come up with an album based on the life of Italian Communist writer Giangiacomo Feltrinelli. Having debuted with their 2008 concept album about the DeLorean founder and his playboy lifestyle, Praxis Makes Perfect is suitably novel. Electronics whir like the sounds used to give Sputnik character in aging public information films. That feeling of Communist Russia as the dysfunctional but threatening bully, with its constructivism and hypocrisy, is captured wonderfully. You might just learn more about hegemony and the bourgeoisie in 30 minutes than Cultural Studies could teach you in three years.
Top tracks: Praxis Makes Perfect, Shopping (I Like to), Mid Century Modern Nightmare
Image: Collage of album covers by Aaron Lee; album artwork belongs to respective parties